I am about halfway through earning my Master's Degree (Interdisciplinary Studies: Professional Communication) from Southern Utah University. One of my recent classes was Professional Social Media, and I wanted to share an assignment that was part of my Final.
I had to find a company, evaluate their social media and produce a presentation (as if I worked there or consulting) that gave suggestions for improvements. I decided to pick Podcast.Co because I love podcasting, and I liked what they were offering to the market.
This isn't about criticism, because at the end of the day, a lot of companies could make improvements to their social media. I wanted to share this to help you come up with ways to evaluate your social media and maybe help a podcast company in the process.
When I wrote and produced fundraising content at the North Texas NPR affiliate, one key messaging point was that listener support helped the station produce radio with less advertising - leaving more time for interviews and shows each hour. The more content/fewer commercials component of podcasts have a similar appeal, and you don't have to follow an hourly clock.
So, what should you do with all of that time flexibility?
There is no "perfect" length for a podcast episode, but, some guidelines can help determine what's best for your show.
In the book Content Chemistry, Andy Crestodina points out that:
1. The Top 10 business podcasts average 42 minutes.
2. Stitcher research says the typical listener stays connected for 22 minutes.
3. Ted talks are 18 minutes for a reason - Attention rates drop after 20 minutes.
Consider what successful podcasts are doing
One of the most shocking things I heard someone say about their podcast episode length was that you can't go in-depth on a topic in under 30 minutes.
Really? What if your listener thinks you've said enough about something after 18 minutes, and they feel like you dragged it out for another 22?
When I launched Comic Book Noob a few years ago, people said they wanted a simple comic book show that shared simple insights and recommendations. One person told me they would listen to other shows discuss comics, but they would get so into the weeds the content felt overwhelming or confusing.
Our episodes are under 30 minutes - some are under 20 minutes.
Insider tip: People are okay with that length.
Here are some other examples of short podcasts to check out.
Consider your audience
When determining your show length, think about optimizing your audience's time by developing a format that you can consistently follow. Examples:
Put yourself in your listener's shoes and ask:
If it helps, ask your friends or people you know who listen to podcasts about their content preferences. What keeps them engaged? When do they tune out?
More importantly - What makes them subscribe, unsubscribe or stop listening?
With Apple crossing over 2 million podcasts recently and popularity continuing to grow, many content decisions can be driven by the opinions of people who listen to them.
I'm a creative who likes to come up with an idea and immediately start working on it. In 2011, I decided to launch my first podcast, and I wasted no time recording, editing and uploading my first episode. However, as Timothy Failure says - mistakes were made. These mistakes were worthy of some face-paIms, but I learned from them. Plus, they helped me develop strategies to share with new podcasters.
Here are some lessons I learned while producing my first podcast:
Give yourself time to tweak your concept before launch
The Critic Show was the name of my first podcast. The idea was to theme it around guests and listeners discussing all things entertainment. We're all critics, and we share opinions about the things we hear and watch.
Ideally, I wanted celebrity guests on the show. However, this was going to be a brand new podcast, and guests weren't going to know who I am. I figured I would be lucky to book a guest every few months. Nonetheless, I started recording the episodes.
As the first seven shows were produced:
So, I did something painful but necessary. I deleted the first six episodes from my feed.
Later, I heard a podcast expert suggest recording and editing your first shows without uploading them. That way, you can make the necessary tweaks before sharing your content with the public.
He said episodes 7-10 would likely sound a lot different from episodes 1 -6.
I was living proof he was right.
Optimize your frequency
The release dates for The Critic Show was the 15th and the last day of the month. On the one hand, it was a perfect fit for me. It generally took two weeks to find, book and record guest interviews. However, it wasn't an ideal set of dates for potential subscribers.
Later, I attended a podcast session at Social Media Marketing World that emphasized the importance of optimized frequency. The speaker strongly recommended that podcasts upload weekly episodes, but an every other week system worked as well.
The key is to upload shows on the same day. That way, listeners can make your show part of their subscription routines.
The idea of trying to get a show out every week terrified me. However, I would later develop a successful plan for weekly podcast uploads.
Don't create an intro that sounds like it lasts forever
Calling my first show opening "too long" is an understatement. It might be easier to say, "Yikes!" and move on. The original intro for The Critic Show went like this:
These days, I try to keep my intros under 30-60 seconds. The only reason they would last that long is I'm still using some creativity to explain the concept of the show. After all, you never know which episode will be someone's first to hear. However, it's not uncommon for me to make a tighter version of the intro after the show has been out for several weeks.
Still, nothing has been as long as that first Critic Show open. From an audio standpoint, it was giving In A Gadda Da Vida a run for its money.
Make sure you create a sustainable concept that meets your goals
I tell new podcasters to make sure they develop a concept that produces a consistent amount of episodes each year. In other words, don't create a podcast that might run out of topics.
Also, if you can create a podcast with a specific target audience, you're more likely to generate strong subscription numbers. For example, a podcast solely focused on a television series generates a very specific listener base.
Even though The Critic Show established a good format, two problems remained:
When the podcast started its second year, it was renamed Beyond the Screens. This definitely fit the description, but now my feed had two sets of the same show with different names.
So, get that title right the first time!
I started podcasting in 2011. Today, podcasts are a lot more mainstream, and that comes with better access to advice. So, it's easier not to make some of these mistakes.
However, I would finally recommend that you maintain a willingness to learn new things. If you can avoid not learning lessons the hard way, that's even better.
The last nine years of podcasting are filled with memorable experiences, including conducting interviews, meeting people, building relationships and much more. However, when I take a step back, there is actually one podcast that counts as its own amazing, fun and memorable experience:
The Peggy Carter Podcast.
It only lasted for two seasons of Agent Carter, but I’m so pleased that we got them both.
The Random Decision
I came up with the idea to produce an Agent Carter show while producing the Assembly of Geeks podcast. Before this moment, I never thought about spin-off podcasts or doing a show exclusively focused on one television series. However, it was hard to ignore how excited we were to discuss any news surrounding Agent Carter on our current podcast.
At one point, I thought we could dedicate a segment to our Agent Carter reactions, but I thought that would take away from the free-flowing variety of Assembly of Geeks. So, I decided to host and produce a standalone podcast. Then, I had to figure out how to piece it together.
Picking the Co-hosts
I knew I wanted to be a host on this show, and it only made sense to ask AoG co-hosts Tricia Barr and Jeff McGee if they would be interested in being part of it. However, time was an issue for them, and that meant I needed to expand my co-host search.
Fortunately, I was already talking to Lauren Galloway and Amy Hypnarowski about getting involved with Assembly of Geeks, and it turned out they were both very interested Agent Carter. It all fell into place, and we had instant chemistry.
I knew the theme needed an old school secret agent vibe, and I found the perfect opening theme track on Pond5. Then, I started to think about the intro and bumpers. At first, I considered the sound of Peggy going into the office and pulling a file (which would contain the breakdown of the day's episode), but that would be tough to convey with audio sounds.
Then I started to think in old school and 1940s radio terms. At one point, Amy joked about us dressing up in 1940s clothes and turning it into a radio production of that time.
That idea jump-started my concept - The opening theme would transition to the sound of a tuning radio. Then, an old-school radio announcer would set the stage through a dramatic read.
I was lucky to find voiceover artistRon Chavis to be the newsman. His first words were always, "This is SSR radio."
As I wrote his first script, I knew I wanted his last line to be something over-dramatic. So, he closed with a dire warning about Peggy's mission by saying, "If she fails, the consequences could be severe...both for her...and the world as we know it."
When I was writing the intro for the second episode, I struggled to come up with a line that had an equally cool and cheese-tastic ring to it. Then it hit me - the "world as we know it line" should be the close for every episode's introduction.
If it wasn't broken, why try to fix it? That closing line became very synonymous with the show.
Audio: The Peggy Carter Podcast Season Premiere Episode
Along with the fun introduction, each "break" in the podcast featured 1940s music (including tracks heard in the series) and 1940s radio commercials.
The Hayley Atwell Interview
It wasn't long into the first season that we learned that some writers from Agent Carter were listening to the show. The download stats were solid as the podcast grew into something unexpectedly great.
Yet, there wasn't a guarantee that Agent Carter would get renewed for a second season. When the renewal came, I started to think about starting our second season with a special guest.
In May of 2015, I made plans to attend a comic convention in Houston. Hayley Atwell was a guest, and she was the main reason for my attendance. Having conducted several convention interviews, I wondered if it was possible to talk to Hayley while I was there. Thanks to Lauren's social media connections with people at Marvel, she was able to find out who I should contact about this idea.
It was the Executive Director of Television Communications.
When I reached out, I learned Marvel wasn't in control of Hayley's schedule at the convention. So, any interviews would have to be controlled by their staff. However, I was told that Marvel did not have any problems with her being on the show.
I knew it was too late to organize something like that, and I asked if we could arrange something after the convention. He asked me to touch base with him when the new season went into production in the fall.
At the convention, I paid for an autograph and photo op with Hayley. While she was signing my picture, I asked if she'd heard of our Peggy Carter show.
She looked up, thought for a second and said, "Yes! In fact, I've listened to it in my trailer." She said she loved the amount of enthusiasm we had for the show.
That was an unforgettable moment.
Before I reached out to Marvel about an interview with her, I wanted to establish some rapport and demonstrate my professional approach to interviews. So, I booked an interview with Clark Gregg for the Assembly of Geeks Podcast, and we had a fantastic discussion about a variety of topics.
As production of Agent Carter was close to wrapping, I reached out and booked the interview with Hayley. I learned that she would talk to me from her trailer during a break. I would have a 15-minute window.
That day, I couldn't think of anything else. I wasn't nervous about interviewing her, it just needed to go smoothly. After all, this interview took six months to book, and the call was coming from a trailer on set. It was a tight window, and rescheduling may not be possible if something went wrong.
Finally, it was time to record the interview.
Then, we got delayed.
That wasn't surprising since she was on a production set, and it meant I was going to have to wait a little longer. A couple more delays came and went, and they told me would call when they're ready.
This extra time allowed me to calm my nerves and wait for everything to fall into place. The phone rang, and it was time to make this happen.
I was already a bit worried about this.
Luckily, she was able to put on a headset. Once plugged in, she came through loud and clear.
She was a wonderful guest. She was totally engaged in our conversation, and we had a great 15-minute talk about Season One, the extended story of her character and the themes of Season Two.
Everything came together and worked out perfectly.
Even though I wouldn't upload the interview for another month, I decided to promote it on Twitter. It ended up being the perfect time to share it.
Hayley retweeted it, and later that day, she decided not return to Twitter. Our interview was the last thing she shared on her account before leaving social media.
It was almost fitting since everything about this podcast experience was about good decisions and timing:
I also have that unforgettable interview with the star of the show.
In July of 2014, I had an awesome opportunity and a problem.
The opportunity: An in-person interview with David Giuntoloi and Bitsie Tulloch about Grimm.
The problem: I didn't watch the show.
However, I had to assume that many of my listeners did watch it. So, I researched what happened in previous seasons, and I developed some questions. I then sent those questions to friends who were big fans of Grimm because I wanted to make sure I crafted good questions.
My friends said they were good questions and didn't have anything to add.
Then, when I sat down to talk with David, he noticed I had a set of prepared questions.
He was shocked.
He playfully expressed his surprise by telling me he didn't expect a podcast interviewer to come prepared with questions.
While I appreciated the compliment, that wasn't the best commentary about podcast interviews. Yet, it wouldn't be the only time I would have to be the exception to that rule.
When I asked Anthony Michael Hall for an interview, he agreed but wanted to keep it short. He soon realized I was prepared, and we ended up having a longer (and enjoyable) conversation.
While attending a convention, I walked into a room full of independent podcasts and media outlets who were there to interview voice actor Fred Tatasciore. I was the last person to interview him. He was so pleased with my preparation and questions that he offered to sign some posters for my listeners. These were posters he brought to the convention.
Do some research
This may sound like common sense, and it should be automatic. However, it's one of the major reasons why so many podcast interviews suck. When I say research, I mean:
1. Ask for a biography page, read their websites and/or read news stories about them
2. If there are prior interviews with your guest, find some and watch or read them
3. If they're an author, read the book
4. Put yourself in the listener's shoes and ask yourself what you would want to know
5. Make sure you don't have too many (if any) questions that start with, "What was it like..."
Many podcasters will improvise or decide on simple questions that don't take a lot of time to develop. Keep in mind, your questions and preparation are a representation of you. While it's important to always remember that, I've interviewed quests whose expertise was way beyond mine. For example, when I had to conduct an interview on the mind's impact on back pain, I had to do a deep-dive into research in order to give me and the interview some meaningful credibility.
Research is critical. Start with these steps, and you'll be well on your way to conducting a stronger interview.
Craft better questions
While I was attending a convention a couple of years ago, I came across someone who I've interviewed in the past. He's an in-demand author, and he told me he was starting to cut back on podcast interview requests.
One reason for this - People keep asking him the same questions.
"Instead of asking me how I got started, I wish they would ask me WHY I got started."
This goes back to my point about the "What was it like" questions:
What was it like doing this
What was it like playing this role
What was it like working with ____
There are better questions, and my former guest correctly pointed out that there are better ways to ask them. It's also another for reason researching prior interviews. If the person you want to interview is an in-demand guest, you can definitely learn about the repeated questions they've been asked.
One of the biggest guests I've ever had was Hayley Atwell, who plays Peggy Carter for Marvel. There are a ton of previous interviews to watch, including podcast interviews at San Diego Comic-Con.
So, you don't have to be the interviewer who asked that question because:
1. You did your research and noticed she's been asked this 100 times.
2. Your research will show you that she doesn't like to view the character in that context.
Now, it's almost impossible to line-up a set of questions that a guest like Hayley has never been asked, but you can craft a different way to ask it. When you do that, your guest will probably have to stop, think and share a new version of their response. The same questions will trigger the same responses, and that gets old with guests.
Don't make it a tennis match
During a tennis match, you can't help but take your eyes off the game and watch the crowd. The sight of people's heads going side to side can be entertaining as well. However, in the world of interviewing - it can be quite dull.
What do I mean by a tennis match interview? The back and forth is simple and one-dimensional:
I think it's much more effective to approach an interview as a conversation. You don't even have to follow your prepared questions at times because they might answer a prepared question while discussing another topic.
You have to listen and adjust.
Plus, if you're listening carefully, they may say something that inspires a better question than the one you have in front of you.
You can also make a guest comfortable with a conversational interview by having some pleasant small talk before you start recording.
Don't be afraid to bring up that other thing
This is another advantage of doing research. You might be talking to an author about their book, but your research showed that they're very passionate about a charity. So, you ask them about that as well.
Some interviewers are so one-track minded, they talk about one topic, and they're done. If there's an opportunity to work an additional highlight into your discussion:
1. It shows you did your research
2. It's a potential opportunity to ask something they're not always asked
3. It could add another interesting layer to your discussion.
I've done this on more than one occasion, and it's always a good thing. Back in 2012, I interviewed Alicia Witt about her role in Cowgirls 'n Angels and Two Weeks Notice. She lit up with a smile when I brought up her singing career, which is a bigger part of her life now.
Remember that when you conduct an interview, you're representing you, your show and your audience. Take that seriously. Let that help you gain a reputation as a prepared and professional interviewer.
That reputation could override the negative perceptions of podcast interviews and generate more opportunities for you.
I love it when I come across the occasional meme or message on social media that states something truly meaningful. For example, I like it when I see reminders that in a very celebrity-obsessed and self-focused world, important people get overlooked - like our military heroes. This is especially true for those who belong to The Greatest Generation.
No doubt about it, I was always excited when I booked a celebrity guest on my first talk show. However, I was honored to talk to two heroes in February of 2012. The movie Red Tails was coming out, and it told a story featuring a group of Tuskegee Airmen. Sure, I could've worked on finding a couple of actors from the movie, but I decided to go a different route.
I went out and found two actual Tuskegee Airmen to feature on the show - Master Sergeant Joseph Montgomery and Colonel Charles McGee. First off, Colonel McGee was a modern day badass. From World War II to Vietnam, he was like Maverick from Top Gun. He flew over 400 combat missions during his service. He is 99-years-old today.
I had the unique opportunity to interview Master Sergeant Montgomery at his home in Fort Worth, Texas. Like many heroes of his generation, he was a great storyteller. He talked about making the trip to Tuskegee via train and having to cover up the windows at stops where skin color could cause some problems for them. At times, he chokes up talking about the experience, proving how much pain still existed. I was sad to learn that he passed away last year, but I feel lucky to be someone who got to hear his story.
I'm also proud to be someone who can help keep the stories and memories alive for both of these American heroes.
Talking about conceptual creativity, engaging content and pop culture.